Every child is born with the potential to create. However, the level at which they go on to undertake anything creative in life, be it drawing, playing a musical instrument, writing poetry, dancing, cooking, designing a computer programme, running a company or scientific research, derives from the development of their creativity. In fact, any activity that engages human intelligence requires creativity and imagination.
Recognising the innate creativity in your child is the first step to nurturing their creative skills. As parents, we need to understand the role that we can play in boosting our children’s creative potential and imagination. We must also be aware of the factors involved in stunting creative growth.
Unfortunately, we often stamp out children’s creativity from a very early age, albeit unwittingly. We involve them in activities that represent our own personal preferences. We might have a fixed idea about what we want our child to pursue as a career when they are older, so we guide them in a certain direction, influencing their choice of hobbies, their subjects studied at school, university degree and so on. We get wrapped up with outcomes and results rather than the process of learning and having fun along the way – values that invariably influence our choice of education system for our children.
“All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think.” Sir Ken Robinson
The educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson said, “All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think.” He goes on to say, “I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”
How many of us take up an interest later in life and discover that we are actually quite good at it! But have you ever wondered why you did not pursue this skill earlier, as a young child?
Of course, there may be many different reasons for each of us (financial, environmental, social, opportunistic etc) but frequently, we do not develop a skill because we do not understand it; we do not have the stamina to continue it; we do not practise it; or we find we do not need to use it.
If we are to enable our children to develop any skill to the best of their ability and consequently avoid stamping out their natural creativity from the earliest age, we must ensure they grow up in a positive environment that constantly encourages curiosity and self-discovery.
This also means creating an environment that inspires their imagination.
Imagination is generally defined as ‘the exploration of ideas outside of our present environment’ – thoughts, senses and perceptions that lead to us forming mental images or conceptualising something that later becomes tangible. An inspired, expanded imagination helps us discover our passions and creative strengths, which often ‘evolve through various phases’ (Ken Robinson) since initial ideas may change over time.
Unfortunately however, what happens all too often is that children begin to experience failure. This causes them to feel self-conscious and question themselves. Once this begins to happen the windows to the imagination start to close. If children feel anxious about the outcome they are unlikely to employ creative thinking skills, such as logic and reasoning, which enable them to learn from the process.
Our role as parents is to support our children as they develop through these creative processes and one of the most beneficial ways to do this from the very beginning is through play.
The process of play helps develop motivation, interest, effort and opportunities in which creativity thrives. Here’s how:
Creative ideas don’t grow in a vacuum. Individual creativity is motivated by encouragement and stimulated by the ideas and achievements of other people, so children need parents, teachers, friends and mentors to support them.
Creative insights occur when risk-taking and experimentation are encouraged, rather than stifled. When children are free from pressure to perform they make connections between ideas or experiences that were previously unconnected, so, in line with Ken Robinson’s thinking, conditions at home and at school can kindle or kill creativity.
People who have achieved great things in their field are often driven by a love of their subject, a real passion for the nature of the processes involved. To inspire curiosity about a wide range of activities, encourage your child’s original ideas and interests, however quirky they may seem. We can raise children’s levels of sensory perception by increasing experiences. So go for walks outside, listen to music, go to the theatre, play on the beach, mix finger paints, cook and encourage physical activity.
Creativity takes mental discipline so set children a framework of positive discipline to guide them. Great works of art often come from working within formal constraints. Some of the finest English poetry is written in sonnet form, which has a fixed 14-line rhyming structure the poet must follow. Rather than inhibiting the writer’s creativity, this sets a framework for him or her to achieve unique effects and original insights.
Creativity involves making judgments about ideas. There may be failures and changes before the best outcome is reached. Children will benefit from supportive, constructive conversations that enable them to evaluate which ideas work and which don’t, make judgments and think critically about their efforts.
Creativity is enriched by a mix of knowledge, interest, feelings, intuition and imagination. Provide a wide range of experiences to enable children to find the right medium for their personal strengths, those that release their creative capacities. Allow them time, space and independence to develop their expertise and learn to control the media they choose.
That means freedom to play, to experiment and take risks, opportunities for conversation to understanding their feelings, and parents being prepared to say “yes” to mess!
What can you do with your child at home to encourage creativity and imagination?
• Limit the use of TV. TV requires very little imagination and does not extend a children’s thinking skills in the same way as active involvement does.
• Read together. As you read to children their imagination will soar. Discuss the story and possible outcomes. Ask questions such as “What might happen next?” “What would you do?”
• Create a small art centre where your children can draw, paint, colour and use playdough. Art materials should be easily accessible.
• Be open to change. Move furniture around, take a new route to school, try new food for dinner. Variety and change helps keep curiosity active and the senses alive.
• Give your children space to make mistakes. Let them do it their way, even if you know it’s unlikely to work! Children can only learn from her own mistakes, not yours. The space to run around in and explore is also vital.Nature is a great inspirer of creativity.
• Recycle. What can your child create with old bottles, boxes, lids, pieces of cloth and so on? Who knows, they could grow up to be the next big global entrepreneur!
• Listen to your child. How can you help your children follow their passions if you don’t know what they are? And met importantly…
• Play together. Take part in role-play with your children. They will love it and together you can experiment and explore in a safe and secure setting.
Through play children are given the opportunity to explore, discover, experiment and make mistakes. These processes are vital in developing the creative thinking skills, which a child carries with him or her through life. Make time for all different kinds of play, including dramatic play, games, block play, water play and sensory play. Exposing children to a variety of play types helps to develop a wide range of skill sets, from critical thinking, problem solving, language and communication, to scientific and mathematical thinking, all allowing them to explore and create in the process.